This is a story that begs to be heard amidst the energy of Omni Amelia Island Plantation's re-imagination campaign. It’s a story on a smaller scale, but has relevance nonetheless – especially because of all the local talent used to complete the project. The author, Diane Terry, is originally from New England (CT and MA). She and photographer Arthur Fasciani bought their condo or villa at Amelia Island Plantation in May of 2011 while vacationing on the Plantation.
A year ago, we bought a 3 bedroom, 3 bath condo at Club Villa on Amelia Island Plantation. Built in 1974, the property was showing its age. Like a kindly grandmother, it had raised two generations of (vacationing) offspring and was tired. The plumbing was corroded, the floorboards were sagging, and the ceilings were low, water stained and “pop-corned.” Nothing was wrong with the ‘bones’ per se; but it was an interior sliding into disrepair.
Our challenge was to bring it online as a high-quality, 21st century, amenity-laden rental property within two months. We missed our goal by two weeks - the contractors arrived on Monday, May 9th and departed on Friday, July 22nd. It took us 10 weeks to complete a project others speculated would take 10 months.
Add to the mix that we didn’t know any local contractors, processes or suppliers, AND we had to manage the project, furnish the unit, and re-equip it while living 1,000 miles away in Connecticut.
FIVE KEYS TO SUCCESS RENOVATING A CONDO
As we look back, knowing what we know now, we see 5 keys to success of our condo renovation- over and above normal project management - that may help new or existing Amelia Island Plantation property owners in their own condo "redevelopment, re-imagining and renewal."
# 1 – Get Condo Association and Amelia Island Management (AIM) on board early
The key reason for our success was the early and personal involvement of our Amelia Island Management property manager (Steve Mehas) and members of our condo association management team (John Cook and Tom Hollingsworth). They all worked together to help identify and remove (potential) roadblocks. Approvals were a breeze with this “A” team at our backs.
And, when the time came to deal with our landscaping challenge (aka our overgrown front courtyard), Steve Mehas recommended we use Martex. Working with them, we redesigned the courtyard, pulling out all the overgrown plants, turning off the automatic sprinklers and installing a rock garden and two huge planters with drip feeders to reduce the amount of water consumed. We created a maintenance-free outdoor space, welcoming and functional - perfect for non-residents like ourselves. And we did it economically and quickly.
# 2 - Stay on property during the demolition process and the first week of framing
As the walls came down, the “gotchas” surfaced. By renting a small condo nearby, we were within earshot of the contractor to facilitate the decision-making process. Most of the important considerations and decisions arose during the first two weeks. Our general contractor, Dewayne Crews (DCI Dewayne Crews, Inc.), was recommended to us the staff at Amelia’s Attic. This was the first of many local referrals.It was our intent to remove two key walls between the kitchen and dining room so that we could open up the entire space to the marsh view. Once the walls were down, we worked together with Mr. Crews and his cabinet maker, Mike Corbitt (Corbitt Cabinet, Manor, GA), to lay out the kitchen island and cabinets. We also thought through the costs and implications of repiping for an island wet bar and raising the ceiling to open up the space and add recessed lighting. Being on-site those first few weeks saved us needless time, frustration and cost.
# 3 - Get to know your neighbors
Nothing grabs a community’s attention like a dumpster parked outside a condo unit. Within days, neighbors began to circle the property, creeping closer and closer - especially in the early evening after the contractors had left. It was great fun to be inside the unit and watch people step gingerly across the patio, cup their hands around their faces and peer inside at the mess. Oftentimes we were in the unit during these expeditions and would surprise our guests by opening the slider and saying "hi." Getting to know our neighbors and enlisting their support, insight and experience was essential to our project. We were not the first to renovate a Club Villa, and our neighbors led us through many other units showing us (and our contractor Mr. Crews) how similar challenges had been met. The ‘local’ knowledge about the structure and its idiosyncrasies saved us time and money.
We also made friends who’ve become even better friends as we begin to spend more and more time down here. Often, in the evening, we sit outside on our patio and people drop by to chat, catch up and share a glass of wine. It’s a magical time, a story repeated (no doubt) year after year in the life of the Plantation.
# 4 - Bring in real estate and rental professionals to give advice
As newcomers to the area who had never owned and rented out a vacation home, we knew we needed help. Even before the closing, we invited a small sample of local experts to tour the condo and advise us on the ‘must haves’ for rental and sales success. The results surprised us: spend your money on ‘soft’ materials (bedding and drapes), wall-mounted HDTVs, and don’t worry too much about a baking or roasting facility in the kitchen because renters go out for dinner regularly.
Though it was hard to contemplate re-selling our new property, inviting a real estate salesperson to advise us on how to get the biggest bang for our renovation dollar was, to us, as important as long-term care insurance. Equally important was the invitation to the manager of Omni's Long-Term Rental Program to assess the location and suitability of our new condo for their monthly rental program – a program we’d used many times in the past to "sample the lifestyle."
# 5 - Ask local business owners for recommendations on non-competing services
Word-of-mouth references, especially in a small town with which you’re unfamiliar, are a no-brainer. While shopping for furniture and accessories, we’d ask for advice on countertops and get referred to a local shop eager for business - Savage Stone, owned by Brenda Savage. Or, while looking at shower doors at Lee & Cates Glass, we’d ask about pavers and patios and get directed to Lynda Dahl, the owner of Imetry, Inc., a place which had been supplying stone to local properties so long that they knew the ins and outs of the architectural review board process. Talk about a timesaver!
We’re not ‘big box’ fans and much prefer working with local shops and services. We also like the concept of recycling “things” and bought half of our living room furniture from a local consignment shop, Amelia’s Attic. Jennifer Gedeon Crews, the store owner’s daughter worked with us to outfit our new space. Using consignment furniture alongside new furniture and favored items from up north, we created a funky, comfortable environment.
Throughout the process we came to know each and every street corner on 8th, 14th, Sadler and Centre streets - a wonderful way to begin to call a place our own. Now, a year later, we know all the shortcuts and many of the proprietors by name. It’s a nice feeling and really makes our second home a "home."
A takeaway thought
The biggest difference between renovating a condominium and a single family home, while obvious to many, was less apparent to us. All our lives we’d lived in single family homes; when it came time to renovate, we’d do whatever we wanted, with little consideration of anything but the local building codes and our own ideas.
It’s different with a condominium, however - especially one in a larger community like Amelia Island Plantation. There are guidelines, covenants, approvals and process to deal with. Only in hindsight did we discover that by turning first to our condo association board and Amelia Island Management (AIM), we’d taken the guesswork out of our project, thus saving ourselves time, money and aggravation.
Local Contractor List
General Contractor - DCI, Dewayne Crews Inc., Yulee, (904) 557-8406
Patio - Imetry Inc., Lynda Dahl, Fernandina Beach, (904) 753-3380
Furniture/Consignment - Amelia's Attic, Jennifer Gedeon Crews, Fernandina Beach, (904) 277-2095
Granite countertops - Savage Stone, Brenda Savage, Fernandina Beach, (904) 277-3524
Kitchen and bath cabinetry - Corbitt Cabinet, Mike Corbitt, Manor, GA, (912) 285-8601
Written and submitted by Diane Terry
"After" photos taken by Arthur Fasciani